Chickens are endlessly fascinating. The more time you spend with them, the more you discover how intensely complex these creatures are. Here are 20 weird and wonderful facts about chickens:
- If all the chickens on earth were evenly distributed among all the people on earth, each person would have at least 3 chickens.
- The chicken is the first bird to have its genome sequenced, allowing poultry breeders to more readily identify the most productive strains.
- A chicken not only learns to recognize its own name, but also knows the names of other chickens in its flock.
- A chicken’s color vision is better than a human’s, encompassing not only the red, blue and green wavelengths we can see, but also ultraviolet wavelengths we can’t see.
- A chicken’s vocabulary includes at least 30 words, and more than likely several others that have yet to be identified.
- Chickens are among the closest living relatives to the Tyrannosaurus rex; if they weighed as much they’d be just as scary.
- Hens and their hatching chicks converse through the shell, allowing chicks to recognize their mother’s voice by the time they enter the world — a trait essential to the chicks’ survival.
- Chickens prefer to bathe in dust, rather than in water; dust bathing both controls external parasites and conditions a chicken’s feathers.
- Chickens can swim, and some actually enjoy it, but to avoid drowning they need to be able to get out of the water when they’re ready.
- Chickens establish a social hierarchy, the pecking order, and removing members or adding members to a flock causes stress.
- Each female chicken starts life carrying the beginnings of thousands of undeveloped yolks, but a hen rarely lays more than a small percentage of the eggs she started with.
- Although a rooster is needed in order for a hen’s eggs to hatch, a rooster is not needed in order for the hen to lay eggs.
- A chicken’s digestive, excretory and reproductive tracts come together at the cloaca; when an egg is laid, the intestinal opening is pressed shut so a hen can’t lay and poop at the same time.
- The only continent that has no live chickens is Antarctica; the only country with no chickens is Vatican City — although the Vatican keeps a chicken flock 26 miles away in the city of Castel Gandolfo.
- A hen’s estrogen output may be reduced by aging, infection or a tumor, causing her to produce testosterone and develop a larger comb and male plumage, mount other hens and even crow.
- Although rare, a chicken can be both male and female, with half of its body looking like a rooster and the other half looking like a hen — a phenomenon called bilateral gynandromorphism (pictured here).
- How many feathers does a chicken have? To settle an argument, an Ohio man once took time to count every one of a Plymouth Rock’s 8,325 feathers.
- Chicks molt three times before they mature, then annually thereafter, although renewing an entire set of plumage may take as long as three years.
- A light weight chicken releases about 120 pounds of droppings per year, a heavy breed averages 180 pounds; and chickens poop even when they’re asleep.
- Chickens need their beauty rest — to maintain good health, a chicken needs 6 to 8 hours of darkness and restful sleep.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow, author, The Chicken Encyclopedia